Jennifer Parker’s father ran a successful construction business in the South, but when she grew up, she got a law degree and worked for various corporations for a decade.
But she couldn’t shake an entrepreneurial calling. In 2002, she left corporate America and founded the Black Capital Network in Buffalo, a consulting firm dedicated to educating, empowering and improving other minority businesses.
She has helped hundreds of businesses with strategy, branding, marketing and public relations. She has organized numerous networking and business development events, most notably the Black Capital Network’s Economic Empowerment Conferences, which have featured national business leaders and experts as keynote speakers. In 2008, she started Jackson Parker Communications, a public relations business.
Parker, who sits on Gov. Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council and is planning an economic development conference for next summer, spoke about fostering business growth in the minority community:
Q: Why did you start the Black Capital Network?
A: I saw there was a need for African-American businesses to grow, and in order for them to grow, they needed the tools. The emphasis has been on networking because people do business with people they know and like. Our focus has been think collaboration, think economic success. Because I believe if a group of small businesses worked together, especially minority businesses, which tend to have financial barriers, they could buy supplies together and cross promote. It was a new way of thinking.
Q: What’s the goal of BCN?
A: I was really trying to educate the black community about having an entrepreneurial spirit and creating an entrepreneurial culture, like I was used to in the South, where you have legacy businesses. You have businesses that have been in business since the 1920s. With segregation, blacks had no choice but to start their own businesses. But integration came in and hurt those African-American businesses in the North.
Q: Why did you decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
A: Entrepreneurship runs in my family, from my grandfather being a successful sharecropper. People say how could he have been successful if he was a sharecropper, but he had 13 children, and they did very well. And then my father with his three brothers had Jackson Construction Company in North Carolina and South Carolina. It was brick masonry construction. Oftentimes, entrepreneurship isn’t pushed. You’re encouraged to get an education and go into corporate America and get a job. But no one talks about creating a job. But a lot of us born in the South, we saw our relatives create jobs. It’s part of the culture.
A: What kind of challenges do minority businesses face?
Q: It’s always the same thing for small businesses, but in the case of minority or African-American businesses, we never had a history of wealth in our community and we haven’t passed it down. And the fact that you don’t have the historic legacy business, like the families that have businesses for a long time, minority businesses don’t get the social support. But the financial barrier is a big part, because how do you grow? We start our businesses with less money, working part time. The start-up money is not usually there and you start off behind. If you don’t start the right business, you can’t attract the venture capitalists. Then we have to go into business wearing all the hats, and we can’t hire people. It’s a continuous cycle of poverty when you start out with little money. I encourage people to save money, go to their families, network, collaborate and start investing in our own businesses.
Q: How would you describe the state of local black-owned businesses?
A: I’m encouraged. When I started Black Capital Network, it was getting people to embrace the idea, and I would see a lot of older successful business owners from the dry cleaning and funeral businesses. But now I’m starting to see people under the age of 40, 30, become more entrepreneurial. Young educated professionals are going into corporate America and saying, ‘I’m going to be here for a few years, and then I’m taking what I want and I’m going to go build my own.’ I’m starting to see that in Buffalo, and I believe our future entrepreneurs are sitting in college classrooms now. And there are people sitting in corporate America who want to have their own, too. And they are starting out part time. When they build the business enough, they can work for themselves.
It’s amazing. The younger generation just has the spirit of entrepreneurship. They are not afraid. I just want more of them to do their research and keep their eyes on the emerging market, like the Medical Corridor. There has to be a laundry list of support services that are needed. If you’re going to start a business, do your research so you can be more successful.